BY MIKE HOUSER
RENO - At 6-foot-7, 260 pounds, Michael Grant is a mountain of a man. As a boxer he has been as close to the top of the heavyweight hill as he could get without reaching the precipice.
Grant, who was stopped by Lennox Lewis on April 29, 2000, in his only bid for the title, finds himself not at the bottom of the mountain again, but somewhere in between as he looks to make one more ascent to the top of the rankings.
Grant, of Norristown, Pa., will face Charles "Buddy" Hatcher, of Columbus, Ohio, tonight in the eight-round co-main event of the latest edition of the Everlast Heavyweight Explosion series, which is promoted by Cedric Kushner Promotions, in association with Downtown Reno.
The seven-fight card, which includes two exhibition bouts featuring models from Perfect 10 Magazine, will be headlined by Jovo Pudar, of Queens, N.Y., and Taurus "The Bull" Sykes, of Brooklyn, who will meet in a 10-rounder. The card will be shown on In Demand pay-Per-View in March.
For the 31-year-old Grant, 38-3, with 29 knockouts, it may be his last shot to regain the promise he once held as a 31-0 prospect who was being touted in boxing circles as the heir apparent to Lewis and one of the forerunners of super-sized heavyweights.
Following his two-round destruction at the hands of Lewis, Grant was dropped and stopped by the first punch he was hit with in his next fight against 6-foot-6 Jameel "Big Time" McCline. Grant injured his ankle during his crash to the canvas and was unable to continue.
Grant - then under the tutelage of trainer and ESPN2 Friday Night Fights analyst Teddy Atlas - took off over seven months before embarking on a seven-fight winning streak, which was ended last June by Dominick Guinn, who knocked down Grant four times en route to a seven-round TKO.
Grant has since acquired former two-time world champion James "Buddy" McGirt as his new trainer after he and Atlas went their separate ways following the Guinn fight.
"The agreement (to split) was mutual," Grant said following Thursday's press conference at the Eldorado Hotel Casino. "(Atlas) wanted to get more out of me, I wanted him to get more out of me. Teddy and I decided he couldn't get it out of me. So I gave Buddy a phone call, and he elaborated on what I could capitalize on."
McGirt wasn't available for comment, but what he got in Grant is a giant heavyweight with good power and a lot of question marks. Grant said there is a marked difference between McGirt and Atlas.
"I can be myself with Buddy," Grant said. "Teddy was a teacher. Buddy doesn't have to teach me, he just trains me. My biggest strength is that I'm gifted with athleticism and ability. My biggest problem is I have no fear. It can be a positive or a negative. I can go through a brick wall, you know?"
Grant won't have to go through a brick wall in Hatcher, 15-5 (11), but he will face a strong puncher. In spite of being dropped four times and stopped in nine by Guinn at Caesars Tahoe last April, Hatcher rocked Guinn several times. Hatcher opened his career with 12 straight wins, but has lost his last three bouts, including an eight-round split-decision against Gilbert Martinez, of Sacramento, who will face Sione Asipeli, of Las Vegas, in a six-rounder on the undercard.
"Hatcher's no dog," Grant said. "He comes to fight. I'm looking to dance with him. I'll tell you this, if we end up going toe to toe, someone's going to fall."
Pudar and Sykes, who have sparred several times in New York, will be looking to settle some differences that arose after Sykes was late to Thursday's press conference and Pudar joked that maybe Sykes was too scared to show up.
"I'll beat his (butt)," said the 28-year-old Sykes, 20-1-1 (5). "Don't be writing that (deleted) that I'm scared. Take a look at what (Pudar's) face looks like after the fight. He'd better have a good chin. I beat his (butt) in sparring."
Pudar, 21-1 (11), dropped by the Jimmy Olivas-Nevada Wolf Pack Gym later in the day and just shrugged his shoulders and smiled when he heard what Sykes had said. The only comment the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder had was that he knew Sykes and had sparred with him.
Sykes' last fight was a draw with former IBF cruiserweight titlist Imamu Mayfield last June, while the 32-year-old Pudar is coming off his biggest win, a six-round TKO of Derek Bryant last November at Caesars Tahoe.
Martinez, 17-6-1 (7), has beaten Charles Shufford and Hatcher in his last two fights. Asipeli, 17-10-2 (8), originally from Tonga, has lost his last seven fights, dating back to June 2001.
In other heavyweight action, Michael Simms, 12-0-1 (10), of Sacramento, will meet Yamplier Azcuy, 7-0 (6), of Las Vegas via Cuba, in a six-round bout, and David Bostice, 31-7-1 (14), of San Bernadino, Calif., takes on Maurice Wheeler, 7-4-1 (1) and one no-contest, of Philadelphia, Pa., in a six-rounder.
Simms, whose last fight was a draw with Felix Cora Jr. last March on Showtime, will be fighting for the first time as a heavyweight. Wheeler is a southpaw who owns an eight-round split-decision over former contender Terrance "KO" Lewis and is a late replacement for Ramon Earl Hayes.
Both exhibition fights are scheduled for four rounds.
Diego Hurtado of Sparks kept his Olympic dream alive on Friday when he beat Austreberto Juarez 24-15 in the Olympic trials 106-pound semifinals in Tunica, Miss. Hurtado advanced to today's consolation finals. With a win today, Hurtado will advance to the Olympic trial box-offs in Cleveland, Ohio, for the right to be on the Olympic team.
EVERLAST HEAVYWEIGHT EXPLOSION
What: Live boxing. Five professional and two exhibition bouts.
Where: City Center Pavilion.
When: Today. Doors open at 5 p.m. First bout at 6 p.m.
Ticket info: Tickets are priced at $25, $40, $60 and $75, and can be purchased at Circus Circus, Eldorado Hotel Casino, Silver Legacy and Harrah's Reno, by calling 888-288-1833, or online at downtownreno.com or tickets.com.